What are panic attacks? They are sudden unexplainable fears that come on without warning. They can be so deeply felt and bring on such terror that the sufferer thinks they are going to die.
Symptoms include heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, chills or the sweats among others. Some sufferers think they are having a heart attack or are about to have one. The severity of the symptoms varies among the individuals suffering from an attack as does the cause of the attack itself.
What doesn’t vary is the fact that the trigger for an attack is an irrational fear, something that has no basis in fact. What the sufferer dreads is going to happen, doesn’t. However, this does not lessen the reality of the fear that is experienced.
The first time someone experiences an attack, they usually don’t understand what is happening; which increases the impact it makes. The experience is so frightening that sufferers go on to fear another attack more than they fear the attack itself.
What makes it so debilitating is the feeling that they have no control over the event; because they do not realize what caused it they cannot predict when it will happen again. The dread of an attack occurring in some sort of social situation whether it be the grocery shopping or a party often leads to avoidance behavior which, in turn, reduces quality of life.
Help for a panic attack is available but unfortunately a lot of sufferers don’t seek treatment. Sometimes, it can be as simple as understanding what a panic attack is and that other people suffer from them. For others, however, a longer therapy is required.
Often the best approach is a multi-disciplinary one with a combination of conventional and alternative therapies. Medication, behavioral and cognitive therapies, herbal treatment and changes in diet can all lead to an attack free life.
One part of behavioral therapy has been found to be particularly helpful in the treatment of panic attacks and that is interoceptive exposure. This means that patients are exposed to some of the symptoms they feel during a panic attack but in a controlled environment. In this way, they learn that there is nothing to fear from the symptom itself. For example, just because someone is experiencing an increased heart rate does not mean that this will automatically lead to a full-blown panic attack.
Once this is handled and accepted, then the fear of normal physical reactions is reduced. This then goes on to real life situations where the sufferer of panic attacks is slowly introduced to the things they fear in order to get used to them.
There are many different relaxation techniques that can be used when individuals feel the onset of an attack. First of all, they need to relax their shoulders and be aware of the tension within the neck. They can then relieve this tension and go on to relaxing all of the muscles in the body. A vital step in relaxation therapy is to learn to control breathing and so have the ability to slow the breathing when it increases due to a perceived stressful situation.
The main symptoms of a panic attack are an increased heart rate and an increased breathing pattern. By mimicking the action of blowing out candles on a birthday cake, breathing can be slowed to a steadier rhythm. It is important that the individual keep in mind that they are not going mad and they are not going to die. In this way, a full blown panic attack can be avoided.
Panic attacks are a type of panic disorder brought on by anxiety which is displayed in a number of ways. A major life stress event may bring on post traumatic stress disorder. These events include the death of a loved one, a painful divorce or separation, a physical attack, an accident or even witnessing a traumatic event.
Another disorder is obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD as it is also known. In this case, the individual has constant unwanted thoughts or obsessions that invade the mind and can’t be removed. Examples of this kind of behavior include constant hand-washing, checking to see if the stove is turned off or avoiding cracks in the sidewalks.
To a lesser extent, most people do sometimes double check that they’ve turned off the stove. Others like to avoid the cracks in the sidewald but they don’t become ritualistic, obsessive behaviors.